« PreviousContinue »
But while these and other considerations are enough to save us from lukewarmness in maintaining our religious opinions, the recollection that we are fallible, and that notwithstanding our convictions, we may be in error, will keep us, we hope, from dogmatism. However earnestly we may contend for what we believe to be truth, we hope ever to be found, in accordance with the injunction of inspiration, speaking the truth in love. Whatever may be the worth of faith, if it be received or propagated at the expense of charity, infinitely more is lost than gained.
There are certain great principles of Christianity in which all Protestant christians unite, at least in theory, and which should control the character of all religious discussion. Among the most prominent, is the right of private individual interpretation of the scriptures. We shall claim this as a right, and urge it as a duty. It was this and the truth that man is accountable to God, but, to him alone, for his opinions, which formerly emancipated Protestants from Papal dominion, and they now form the safeguard of christian truth, pure and undefiled. We hope ever to be found with those who are opposed to all bigotry, intolerance and exclusiveness, and to take our stand in the ranks with them against every attempt to bind men's consciences, and against every form of religious persecution.
By fixing our attention on these and other great principles, we hope to avoid as far as possible a sectarian character. We trust in God that our object is not to build up a sect, but to establish the Truth, and especially the true principles of Christ. We care little for the name of Unitarian. We are willing that the word should be blotted out of the theological vocabulary, if whatever of truth is embodied in it, were but generally diffused. The moment that we become sectarian, seeking our own praise more than the truth of God, we hope that all our supporters will desert us.
The distance at which the Editors live apart, is a disadvantage which will, to some degree, affect this magazine. We are stationed at different points in an immense territory. From Buffalo to St. Louis, is more than twelve hundred miles; and from Cincinnati to Louisville, the two points nearest together, is a day's journey. Of course we can have little personal intercourse together, and absolutely no concert in regard to the articles which we prepare for the successive numbers of the Messenger. It must, therefore, sometimes happen that the same number will contain two articles on the same subject, and perhaps different, or even contradictory opinions will be found
in them. No one of us is appointed censor over the rest, or is responsible for anything but what he himself writes. If any person therefore looks for unity or perfect consistency in our magazine, he will be disappointed. A book chiefly prepared by several persons, without concerted action, must be, in some degree, desultory. We flatter ourselves, however, that we are not the less likely on this account, to arrive at truth, or to preserve in their purity the principles which we advocate.
In regard to the literary department of the Western Messenger, we say nothing at present. With the prayer that God will make this and every effort to promote his truth abundantly successful, we consecrate our book to his service.
ART. I.-A Plea for the West, by Lyman Beecher, D. D., Cincinnati; Truman and Smith, 1835.-pp. 172.
This volume, says the author, contains a discourse delivered by him in several of the Atlantic cities last year, while on an agency for the Cincinnati Lane Seminary. It is printed as delivered, with a little enlargement on a few points.
The name has been objected to; it is said to be, not a Plea for the West, but a plea for Lane Seminary, or a plea against the Catholics, but it is answered, if Dr. Beecher regard the prosperity of his school, or the overthrow of the Catholics as essential to the prosperity of the West, then the terms are synonymous, and the Plea is rightly named; but, on this principle, as the well-being of the West is essential to that of the country, and that to the cause of freedom throughout the world, this discourse, delivered for the purpose of raising funds to carry out the Lane Seminary, might have been called a plea for Liberty, or a plea for the world;-neither of which would be objectionable were they not somewhat assuming and rather ad captandum; and the title "a Plea for the West," is, we think, in bad taste for the same reason; but this is a matter of no consequence.
Of the literary merits of the volume we have little to say; it is well written: for the most part is clear and forcible, and often is eloquent. There are some passages, however, which are, to us, almost unmeaning, and others which are equivocal; of the former is that upon the forty-eighth page, saying that "as a general fact, uneducated mind is educated vice;"—of the latter are several passages which speak of the necessity of approximating to, and uniting with the Catholics; the first conveys
to us no definite idea at all,-while the others may mean either that the Catholics should be treated as any other christian sect, or that they should be converted to Protestantism; we are left in doubt which.
In regard to the sentiments of the volume, all will unite in approving those contained in the first fifty pages; and we shall therefore make no remarks upon them. The last hundred and twenty pages, however, are devoted to a discussion of the question "How far the Catholics are, as a political body, dangerous to the liberties of our country:"-and to this portion of the Plea, there are, we think, many objections, which we shall state as distinctly and concisely as possible.
Our first objection is that an attempt is made in the Plea to enlist public feeling in favor of the Lane Seminary, in other words, to strengthen a Protestant SECT, by exciting public feeling against the Catholics,-not as a religious, but as a political body. On page sixty, Dr. Beecher says, "I have no fear of the Catholics, considered simply as a religious denomination, and unallied to the Church and State establishments of the European governments, hostile to republican institutions;" and again on page sixty-six, "It is to the political claims and character of the Catholic religion, &c., that we would call the attention of the people." Now if it be desirable, as this discourse declares it to be, (p. 123,) to prevent the union of Church and State, that is, the union of any religious body with our republican government, can it be proper or safe for any religious body to ask support and aid on the ground that our republican government is in danger? Is not this taking one stride toward identifying the body or sect for whom aid is asked, with the republic? Had Dr. Beecher mounted the pulpit as a politician, for the purpose of awakening the American people to their danger; or had he appeared as the advocate of general education, for the purpose of proving that with an uneducated population, our liberties must fall;-or had he argued against the Catholics as an opposing religious sect, this objection could not have been made;-but the Plea for the West was delivered while on an agency for the Lane Seminary, and with a view of inducing the people of New England and New-York to give funds to that institution; which institution is, not a school of general education, but a school of Presbyterian theology, and when Dr. Beecher argues in its favor because the Catholics are politically dangerous, he appears to us to be arguing that the Presbyterian sect is to be encouraged because our political liberties are endangered, which is an approach to an identification, or union of a reli
gious body with our republican government;--or a union of Church and State.-That Dr. Beecher sought in this discourse, covertly to bring about this end, we do not suppose; but it appears to us that its tendency is to impress the mind with the idea that a connection exists between Presbyterianism and Republicanism, and that the former should be supported on that ground; but, at the same time, the argument producing this idea is so indirect, that no Jesuitical craft could have concealed it better than has been done, unknown to himself, by Dr. Beecher's prepossession in favor of his own sect and its character.
Our second objection to the Plea is, that it contains unfair representations of facts,-that they are so designedly, however, we do not believe. One to which we will refer, is that upon the ninetieth page; "For what," says Dr. Beecher "was the city of Boston for five nights under arms-her military upon the alert-her citizens enrolled,—and a body of five hundred men constantly patrolling the streets? why were the meetings for public worship, and other public secular meetings, suspended? why were the citizens, at sound of bell, convened at mid-day in Faneuil Hall? To hear Catholicism eulogized, and thanksgivings offered to his reverence the Bishop, for his merciful protection of the children of the pilgrims!"This is a very curious paragraph in many respects; it is a curious inaccuracy of speech to distinguish between meetings for public worship, and other meetings, as we presume was intended to be done by using the word "secular," and at the same time to confound them by saying "other secular meetings:" it is a curious inaccuracy to answer the first two questions of the paragraph by the general answer at the close, which properly applies to them, though surely the military were not under arms five nights to thank Bishop Fenwick; and that too at mid-day: it is a curious inaccuracy also, not of language, but of thought or policy,—in an attack upon the Catholics to ask the first two questions of that paragraph at all, and yet more inaccurate to leave them unanswered;-because now, to the mind of everyone acquainted with the facts, the answer at once comes up, that all the parade and trouble spoken of arose from an act of gross intolerance on the part of the Protestants, and their natural fear of retaliation, all which is very little to the discredit of Catholics: but the most curious inaccuracy of all, is the inaccuracy of moral vision shown by the last clause of the paragraph; that any one should sneer at the conduct of Bishop Fenwick on the occasion referred to, and the thanks that were given
him for it, is a curious fact in the history of mind as swayed by prejudice:—this sneer, sarcasm, or whatever it may be termed, is continued through another paragraph, which we shall not, however, quote. The misrepresentation contained in this passage is not that it states what is not true, but that it states the truth in an unfair manner, and would seek to throw the whole blame of the alarm and disturbance upon the Catholics, when in reality it was upon their opponents.Another misrepresentation, in our opinion, is that upon the sixty-second page, in which it is asserted that the excitement which caused the destruction of the Charlestown convent "had no relation whatever to religious opinions, and no connection with any religious denomination of christians." That this is Dr. Beecher's belief, we know; but when the contrary is the belief of a large portion of the community, has any man a right, in fairness, to put forth what Dr. B. does in this passage, not as his opinion supported by arguments, but as a fact? It is by him stated as a fact, whereas it is merely an opinion, and therein to us consists the misrepresentation: as to which opinion is correct we refer the reader to the report of the Boston Committee, and the evidence given at the trials of the rioters.
Our third objection to the Plea for the West is, that considered as an attempt to excite Americans to a sense of their danger, and upon the supposition that all its charges are valid, -it is yet wanting in the proper spirit of christian controversy, and contains charges stated with needless severity, and in a manner calculated to excite jealousy and dislike in the Protestant, and enmity in the Catholic. We are told by Dr. B., page sixty-three, that "a declamatory, virulent, contemptuous, sarcastic, taunting, denunciatory style is as unchristian as it is indiscreet and in bad taste;" on page sixty-four, that "we must avert the danger from the emigrants by a friendly approximation," and "that it is not the striking of the fist which will disarm them, but words and acts of kindness, and the warm beating of our heart;" and on page one hundred and fifty-seven, he says, "the language of indiscriminate discourtesy towards immigrants, calculated to wound their feelings, and cast odium on respectable and industrious foreigners, is carefully to be avoided." But examine the work and what do you find? An indiscriminate denunciation of the emigrants to this country. It is said of them en masse page sixtyeight, that "since the irruption of the northern barbarians the world has never witnessed such a rush of dark-minded population from one country to another, as is now leaving Europe